About seventy-seven percent of Africans are aged below thirty-five. The average age on the continent is nineteen, and this is continually getting even younger.
In comparison, other populous jurisdictions such as India and China have an average age of twenty-nine and thirty-seven respectively. By 2050, it is projected that every two in five children born in the world will be in Africa.
It is also estimated that by 2050, forty percent of all workers in the world will be coming from Africa. The rate of urbanization on the continent is so high and by 2025, the continent will have three megacities comprised of more than ten million people each, with Nigeria’s Lagos projected to be the largest city on earth by 2075.
The continent still boasts of the highest natural resource endowment, along with highest potential for agricultural production. In short, Africa can ride on her young population to register a level and depth of development previously unseen on the continent, going into the future. It is actually projected that the continent will change more in the next a hundred years than it did in the previous a thousand years.
The ability of the continent to realise the potential in her young population will involve a lot of hard work; including appropriate skilling of youth, working out the best conducive environments within which these youths can experiment and perfect their skills, unfettered by constraints of intra-continental disharmony in trade and commerce and potential geopolitical differences.
The viability of the continent’s youth-specific advantages is dependent on acceptance by older generations that younger generations should not be restrained within the limitations of the different national boundaries on the continent.
The youth need to be let free, to utilize the synergy of combined capacity from their interaction and sharing of knowledge and skills.
Currently, one could note that the continent’s population is continually fusing through social media space and other internet based provisions, with the goings on in one country getting quickly spread to other countries, to form intellectual discourse.
In a way, Africa’s younger generation is tending more to weave their identities around ideas than national boundaries, enabled by enhanced and borderless communication and connectivity of the current age.
The continent’s leadership is equally supportive with the agenda of dissolving disharmony in trade and commerce as well as pursuing geopolitical harmony through enhanced models of regional blocs.
Challenges notwithstanding, there are efforts at undertaking collective infrastructure projects at regional level, forming monetary unions as well as the continental level agenda for dismantling commercial borders and removing aviation airspace constraints between countries on the continent.
There are therefore efforts to drive the continent towards the ideal environment in which the young can realise their potential with greater opportunity.
Regarding her very young and exploding population though, the residual danger for Africa lies in the likelihood that the above interventions are likely to always lag behind the required pace of response needed to address attendant challenges as they evolve. The search for jobs continues to plague many youths and by 2017, sixty percent of unemployed Africans were youths. This proportion can only continue to grow as the continent gets younger.
Interventions around access to education have enabled rising numbers of youths with academic credentials who do not easily access jobs, and with this comes frustration and demand for answers from African governments. Even more dangerous, political players on the continent continue to motivate the young population towards political activism, as a promised hope for solutions to their challenges.
This aspect can even be amplified by non-domestic parties, if they so wish. It poses great danger to security and sustainability.
The continent’s youth have their expectations, which are continually getting harder to meet, even with current efforts at creating enabling environments for these youths to activate their potential. Unmet expectations of the youths are a great danger to Africa and a recipe for disruption of whatever has been achieved so far.
In the meantime, before significant gains are registered towards trade unity, African countries need to assess their unique potentials for creating massive employment for the young.
Some may find their answers in their unutilised potential in agriculture and agribusiness, and others in other areas such as extensive industrialization and other fields.
Countries need to identify opportunities in which they can register the quickest gains at relatively the lowest investment cost, while at the same time keeping sight of the key and assured incontinent needs of the growing population, in order to utilize the expanding continental market.
Raymond is a Chartered Risk Analyst and risk management consultant